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AZ Legislature passes bipartisan solution to looming elections problem

By Camryn Sanchez
Published: Thursday, February 8, 2024 - 5:35pm

After weeks of negotiations, lawmakers at the Arizona Legislature agreed to a bipartisan bill to fix election deadline issues that threatened to put ballots for military personnel and the state’s presidential votes at risk.

County officials warned that an increase in the number of mandatory recounts triggered by a law passed in 2022 would not leave them with enough time to issue ballots to overseas military members — also called UOCAVA voters — after the August primary by a federally-imposed deadline. There are different fears about the general election, when an influx of recounts could create delays that conflict with a new federal law that requires the state to certify its presidential electors by Dec. 11.

All parties involved, including both Democratic and Republican lawmakers, agreed they needed to solve that problem by giving election officials more time to perform recounts and other post-election activities.

But, initially, Republicans and Democrats backed very different solutions. 

Democrats sought to roll back the 2022 recount law. 

Republicans, who hold a slim one-vote majority in the state House and Senate, backed a different bill that included other election calendar changes sought by county officials that run elections, including moving the primary this year up by a week to July 30.

The bill also limits the days primary candidates have to proofread ballots from five to two days; allows counties to transmit their official vote counts to the state electronically; and speeds up the state’s official vote tally.

It also allows counties to conduct the five-day cure period, or the time period after an election when mail-in voters can correct any problems with their signatures on a ballot envelope, over five calendar days instead of the five business days that counties currently allow.

But the GOP bill also codifies signature verification standards for mail-in ballots in state law, a Republican election priority that is unrelated to the election deadline issue.

Rep. Alexander Kolodin (R-Scottsdale), who sponsored the bill, called it a win for Republicans and seemingly took shots at members of his own party who wanted more.

“We have acted like crabs in a bucket letting the perfect be the enemy of the good,” Kolodin said, though he later added, “we have the finest people here in elections of any place in the government, and we got this done.” 

Man in suit
Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services
Arizona state Rep. Alexander Kolodin in 2024.

The Republican-backed bill ultimately won out despite reservations from Democrats, who opposed the shortened cure period and the signature verification provisions.

“But we simply cannot risk that Arizona does not have representation in the Electoral College, and that’s why I am supporting this bill,” Rep. Cesar Aguilar (D-Phoenix) said. “Because at the end of the day, while the bill isn’t the bill I wanted, this legislation is necessary for voters to have a say.”

Democrats negotiated multiple amendments to the GOP bill, removing provisions that would have required high schools to serve as polling places and moved up Arizona’s primary election to May in 2026.

Rep. Laura Terech (D-Phoenix) said language that would allow lawmakers to reverse the curing period change after two election cycles was also key to winning her support. The bill also requires elections officials to keep their offices open on weekends during the shortened cure period to allow voters to correct issues with their ballots.

“We’re going to try it for two cycles and if we’re finding that these processes need to change, that’s something we can revisit,” Terech said.  

The bill ultimately moved through both chambers of the legislature with bipartisan support, passing 56-2 in the House and 24-2 in the Senate. Republicans like Sen. Anthony Kern cast the four votes against the deal, arguing it should have included more GOP priorities.

As for Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs, who last year vetoed a bill sponsored by Kolodin that included similar signature verification language, the governor said she was “proud that a strong bipartisan deal passed to secure free and fair elections.” 

“Arizonans can rest assured that their voices will be heard and that our elections will run free of political interference,” Hobbs said in a statement.

Politics Elections